It isn't a secret that some in the west have an infatuation with Buddhism. It is still relatively new to the majority of Americans, having only really been absorbed by the white populations that make up most of the country since the 1950s. So, it still is in a bit of a honeymoon phase where for some in these white populations put the teachers on pedestals. For my non-American readers that means thinking that a certain person is perfect, so much so that you're willing to look past obvious faults because you're blinded by hero worship.
This is fueled I believe in large part by the false perception by some in the west that Buddhist teachers are all enlightened and that thus, they can do nothing wrong. This leads to schisms in some Buddhist communities between those who are deluded by the charm and title of a monk, and those who see that same teacher's obvious bad behavior. I won't go into the particulars but a prime example of this in the Zen Buddhist community is the case of Eido Shimano.
Since Buddhism in Asia has been around for millennia, it seems a healthy dose of skepticism and discernment has fermented. Take for example the case of the morally bankrupt monk, Osel Tendzin as brought to us by Katy Butler's great article titled, "Encountering the Shadow in Buddhist America," Pressure from the community is very important in controlling behavior in Tibetan communities," said Dr. Barbara Aziz, an internationally known social . . . who has spent 20 years doing fieldwork among Tibetans. . . . "In Tibetan society, they expect more of the guy they put on the pedestal . . . if such a scandal [as Osel Tendzin's] had happened in Tibet [he] might have been driven from the valley."
Furthermore, Tibetans may "demonstrate all kinds of reverence to a [teacher], but they won't necessarily do what he says. I see far more discernment among my Tibetan and Nepali friends," (said Dr. Aziz, in the Butler article), "than among Westerners."
These quotes were used in an excellent article by Russ Wellen found on The Buddhist Channel website. Ms. Butler goes onto add a quote by the Dalai Lama about Sangha teachers and monks that I think should be read by all western Buddhists, "I recommend never adopting the attitude toward one's Spiritual teacher of seeing his or her every action as divine or noble. . . . if one has a teacher who is not qualified, who is engaging in unsuitable or wrong behavior, then it is appropriate for the student to criticize that behavior."
I am reminded yet again here of the beautiful, yet simple and widely applicable Kalama Sutra that forms the foundation of my Buddhist practice. In particular, Buddha's charter on free inquiry. It is what grounds me when I find myself getting too caught up in the dogma and cult of personalities that sometimes form in Buddhist circles:
It is proper for you, Kalamas, [the people Buddha was addressing were the Kalamas] to doubt, to be uncertain; uncertainty has arisen in you about what is doubtful. Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are bad; these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to harm and ill,' abandon them.(emphasis added by James).The commentary from the Sinahlese monk, Soma Thero, that prefaces the charter adds additional reasoning as to why the Kalama Sutra is so fundamental for myself and many Buddhists today who come to the practice from a tradition of the scientific method. For it is difficult sometimes to access the validity of a belief system without a standard to judge it by. The charter in the Kalama Sutra provides just that to seekers:
Come, Kalamas. Do not go upon what has been acquired by repeated hearing; nor upon tradition; nor upon rumor; nor upon what is in a scripture; nor upon surmise; nor upon an axiom; nor upon specious reasoning; nor upon a bias towards a notion that has been pondered over; nor upon another's seeming ability; nor upon the consideration, 'The monk is our teacher.' Kalamas, when you yourselves know: 'These things are good; these things are not blamable; these things are praised by the wise; undertaken and observed, these things lead to benefit and happiness,' enter on and abide in them.
"The Kalama Sutta, which sets forth the principles that should be followed by a seeker of truth, and which contains a standard things are judged by, belongs to a framework of the Dhamma; the four solaces taught in the sutta point out the extent to which the Buddha permits suspense of judgment in matters beyond normal cognition. The solaces show that the reason for a virtuous life does not necessarily depend on belief in rebirth or retribution, but on mental well-being acquired through the overcoming of greed, hate, and delusion."
UPDATE: Of course, this is not to say that we shouldn't expect our leaders to adhere to moral standards but that we shouldn't allow the misdeeds of some leaders to drive us away from the Buddhadharma. It is the Dharma that is enlightened--not necessarily teachers and monks. It is a reminder as well to maintain a healthy degree of skepticism when evaluating Dharma teachers before we submit to their advice and authority.